Over the last 20 years, Tim Keller has quietly gained a strong reputation in New York City as pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church.
He rose national prominence with the release of his best-seller, The Reason for God. Now in the book, Counterfeit Gods, Keller addresses the emptiness that comes with the search for happiness without God.
In the Old Testament, it was called idol worship. The object was a golden calf. Today we laugh at the ancient Israelites' foolishness.
But Keller believes idol worship is alive and well today.
"It's very clear that you can take something that's not actually a figure like money or power, military might, physical beauty, and make into a God substitute," he explained.
"So idolatry is ultimately a matter of the heart and you can do it with anything," Keller continued. "It's not just a matter of bowing down to little statues."
The problem, he added, is that the seemingly good things that God has created for our enjoyment can become idols without us realizing it.
"I've never had anybody over the years come and confess the sin of greed to me. And yet clearly people are greedy," Keller said. "It's very obvious that people put too much weight on money and material things and yet it's so subtle that we can't see it ourselves."
"Since we all tend to be self-deceived, it's like an addict, addicts are always self-deceived," he added. "And we have to be very, very careful. We have to look at ourselves and ask ourselves some pretty hard questions."
Keller says one main question is what we tend to fantasize about.
"That might be your real God. It's what you're really, really, really after," he said. "Another question you could ask yourself is where do you tend to spend too much money? What is it that you like so much, it's so meaningful to you. Is it clothes? Is it travel? Is it your appearance? Is it your children?"
Keller steers away from political involvement, but his 20-years of ministry in the high-octane cultural and economic center that is New York City has provided him with a unique perspective on three distinct world views.
"I believe secularism, by and large, tends to make people selfish. I get push-back from people on that," he said. "I'm not saying that all secular people are selfish. I'm just saying that if you really believe there is no truth, there really is no right and wrong other than what I manufacture for myself. Then it tends to make people feel, 'Hey, in the end, I've got to live for myself.' I see it a lot."
"More traditional religion and morality tends to make people tribal," he explained. "Like we have all the truth and you don't. And I think the Gospel, which is that there is truth, but you're not saved by being a good person, you're saved by grace."
"It combines a concern for truth with a graciousness about how we deal with people that don't agree with us," Keller added. "The number of Christians that really, really are marked by that, that concern for truth and that graciousness are just, I think, a really small number."
"That third group needs to to grow. It means to work for the common good, be engaged locally, be politically involved, certainly be very, very concerned about the poor in your neighborhood and yet speak up for the truth and yet do it in a civil way," Keller explained.
"Just say, 'Hey, this is what I think is right. And I want to argue for this and I'm hoping I can win some elections in this, but I'm not going to vilify and demonize the opposition,' he said. "That third group needs to grow. And I think Christians can populate that group."
*Originally published November 25, 2009.